Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bioshock: Rivets, Rapture, and Ayn Rand.

[As with most of my reviews, I try not to reveal plot lines and key points, but some are necessary. For the most part, the reviews I write are more how I experienced the work, not about the work itself. For the an important part of the work is what we bring into it, almost as much as what the author brings.]

So tonight, at the end of 2013, I finished up Bioshock 2, the second half of the Rapture story.  I've needed an escape for the past few weeks, someplace to go in between hospital visits.  My routine has been interrupted, and sometimes that's good, but there are times that I've come home to an empty house and wanted another world to dip into.  And so I've got my Kobo Mini (see last post) for books, and I installed Bioshock 1 and 2 on my computer.  With my time all messed up, I caught myself playing until 2am (after all that's not late, is it?) and exploring a city constructed at the bottom of the sea. 

You start off surviving a plane crash, and swimming in the Atlantic to a mysterious tower on a island, and from there, you descend into the modern/classic architecture that would come out of Ayn Rand's Fountainhead or the decadence of the 1920's.  Many scenes remind me of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, or even the posh reception room at the front of Emory's Hospital wing.  But the city, Rapture, is in disrepair, and the people living there not much better.  The most striking part of entering the city is Bobby Darin's "Sailin'" playing on 1940's radio (the story starts in 1959).  Perhaps that's the best part of the game, the music itself.  From Bing Crosby's "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime," to Patti Page's "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" the crooning sounds fit perfectly into a place where drugged madmen, monstrosities with giant drills for hands assist young girls in extracting chemicals from dead bodies (in almost a creepy Lolita sorta way.)  There's actually a soundtrack that is available on Spotify or Amazon, and playlists on Spotify where people have taken the music and lined it up as it appears in the game.  One final point about the music, the haunting version of "Jesus Loves Me" sung by a delusional German trapped in a room is one of the strongest usages of music in any video game, or in any modern media.  

Then, as you look at the artwork displayed proudly at the beginning of the game, you realize that the founder, one Andrew Ryan, is very directly created from the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Bioshock 1 takes Objectivism, points out its obvious human flaws, inserts scientific breakthroughs, and then stretches it all to its logical extreme.  In this world, you get to look at John Galt's world without morality, and in a world where the ability to change your DNA in a Laissez-faire system without any regulations, it gets bad fast.  

I've said in the past that Ayn Rand's (and therefore Andrew Ryan) ideas are good, but they don't take into account human nature.  I've also said that Rand's attitude that Christianity and Objectivism cannot mix is wrong, and in this game, Religion is a main theme.  Bibles are smuggled in (indeed, Ryan thought that any communication with the outside world was forbidden), followers of Christ are seen throughout the game crucified, men cry to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" right before they start shooting at you.  But before my Christian friends would decry the game as unplayable, I would argue that this game is an Apologetics dream.  In this game, you are presented with ideological arguments, and the choices you make in the game will determine the verdict.  

I call it "a game," because Bioshock 1 and 2 are essentially two halves of the same story. The sequel intertwines in wondrous ways, so much so that it is impossible to play it without the original first.  I do agree that the first half is better, much like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Two different pilgrims finding their way to Heaven, and finding temptations all along the way.  But the first half, with Christian, is much better.  Thing is, with Bunyan's work, you can read the first half, and it will be complete.  With Bioshock, you've got to play both halves for a complete story.  

The second story starts with you being one of those monstrosities with drills for hands, and 10 years after the first, you meet Dr. Sofia Lamb, who has instituted a Socialist society after the downfall of the Objectivist one.  It, too, dismisses religion (in fact, Lamb inserts herself as the savior of the people, and is worshiped much like God), and in that, Lamb, like Ryan, does not take into account human nature.  It is an argument used for both ends of an ideological spectrum.  I don't understand that, as ideologically sound both arguments are (and, in truth, pure Communism is a great idea, if you leave human nature out of it, same with Pure Objectivism), both can never work.  They are Thesis and Antithesis. The notion that compromise, a Synthesis, is the only way it would work, and I would have to agree.  

There is a prequel book, that was published in 2011, that I have yet to read, and want to.  Also, there is a third game, Bioshock Infinite that I have yet to play. 

CAUTION The games are best played with the sound on. BUT, the insane inhabitants of Rapture have no problem using vile language and violent acts.  These are not to be played with kids around.  Oh, and one more thing... Bioshock 2... it crashed my computer every time I quit playing it. Nothing major, but I did have to cold reboot it every time. Looking online, it seems it's a widespread problem with no available fix. Had something to do with Windows Live or the Graphic system (and I had a store bought legal copy, not a pirated copy). I even re-downloaded a copy from the Steam system, and it did the same thing. So.... yeah... just to let you know.  

One last thing, to wrap things up.  This is a first-person shooter game. I usually don't like those games, and with the exception of Half-Life, I can't stand them.  They are better fit for those who just like the violence and like large explosions.  I like neither.  But the plot line and the arguments given are superb, and so, to bypass much of the difficulty I have with this genre, I put it on easy.  In truth, the end of both games became too easy that way, but on Medium (and I tried that) I became bogged down in just trying to stay alive. So if you don't like first-person shooters, play the game on Easy, and if you like these games, put it on Medium or Hard, whatever your choice.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ender Afterwards; E-Readers; and Emory Hospital Food

This December has been stressful, with my mom having an Aortic Aneurysm and needing surgery (which means both my mom and dad will have had the chest scar of open heart surgery), and I can drive from my house to Emory Hospital over on North Decatur road in my sleep (and have, several times). So I have not done blog posts this month as I would normally. The Christmas season is usually full of great observations about society as it maneuvers its way through the Long December.  Working at Lifeway as I do, it does add a unique slant on things, as we are able to say, proudly and defiantly to all the world, "Merry Christmas," and it's wonderful to do.  It becomes natural after a while, as if Christmas was indeed what all of December was about, filled with the celebration of Jesus through all the many different ways, through all the many Christmas carols in 3/4 time that get stuck in my head (but that's a good thing).

Hospital stays are as divergent from real life as about anything possible.  Everything stops.  It becomes a game of "Hurry Up and Wait" with tons of waiting time in between short bursts of emotional fervor and dramatic action.  Fortunately, our family has had the pleasure of working with Emory this time, with all its elegance, warmth, beauty, and class.  Christmas time at Emory is something to see.  The varied Christmas trees are spectacular, along with the architecture of the sudden waiting rooms, both modern and classical, which are quiet pleasing to weary eyes.  The bridges over Clifton St. are lined with pictures of bridges (I wanted to add the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and my brother suggested we put a picture of Lloyd Bridges, see if anyone would get the joke), and the gift shop wall has framed images of the different seasons, suggesting a year round presence, and a calming one at that.

So, with all this waiting, I've been able to read, and so I have a couple of quick reviews and thoughts about this month.

Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

A direct sequel to all the Ender books that have come before ( namely Ender's Game and the Shadow series), I decided to read this after seeing the movie.  It's amazing how, since I've read Card's Ender books for so long, how what I see as the house Ender and Valentine lived in was so much different from the one they shot in the movie.  However, since Ender (Asa Butterfield) and Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, and let's face it, you've never seen Han Solo as anyone other than Harrison Ford) were so well played, they can easily be the figures in my head for those characters.  Bean, however, I tend to stick with the images in my head, as Aramis Knight just didn't work for me on that one.

Anyway,  so I picked up Ender in Exile and eased back into the world that I've visited so many times before. It was a pleasant read, experienced much like watching a Star Trek: TNG episode, where everyone interact with each other with the experience of a well oiled machine.  It's typical OSC, and I love it.  Problem with this book was that it read so much like a sequel to the film, with the scrunching of details, characterization, etc... that I thought it was being written to become a film, not a book.  It's a quaint place holder to get Ender from Eros (not, as in the movie, a Formic home base where he finds the Hive Queen) to the new colony of Shakespeare (which, in the book, he actually does find the Hive Queen.)  Science Fiction masterpiece, it's not (go read Speaker for the Dead/Xenocide for true masterpieces of literature, but it was a wonderful distraction at a time when I needed it.


I recently purchased (yet again, for reasons I'll explain) another Kobo, because the Kobo Touch I had, the battery died and it wouldn't recharge at all.  So QVC had the Kobo Mini for $50 on clearance, so I got one.  It's the cutest little e-reader in the whole world, and I like it.  So why, you ask, after I've had two Kobo's go dead on me, do I buy a third?  It's simple, really, it's called principle.  Kobo is a Canadian (via the Japanese) company that bases its e-reader upon open source technology. Namely, the *.epub file, which can be read by any system, and is easy to convert, store, and is not a proprietary file name used by only one online bookstore that is also a South American River.  I looked at Barnes & Noble's Nook, and at Amazon's Kindle, but I found them unsatisfactory for a number of reasons:

  1. The Nook and Kindle are run by specific companies with a specific goal in mind, to make Money.  So since they made the device, they can put programming language that tracks everything you do or read or search for on the device, and then they suggest items based upon your search history.  And while, yes, I know, Google does the exact same thing, I'm just not comfortable with Amazon knowing everything I do.  
  2. I want a device that does one thing.... let me read books.  I don't want the web on there, I don't want games, or music, or video, or anything else.  JUST BOOKS!!!I have ADOS (Attention Deficit Ooohh Shiney!), and the last thing I want on a electronic book reader are things that will make it harder to use the device to read a book.  It's why I can'r watch any of the DVDs I have in my room, because there are so many other distractions to keep me from watching the movie.  Not to mention the alluring convenience of the Fast Forward and Rewind and Skip To buttons.  I have an AlphaSmart 3000 that just types blogs, for when I want to work on this outside of my room, and now I have a Kobo that allows me to read e-books outside of actually taking the book with me.  And yes, I know, just take the book.  But it's easier, sometimes, to take the e-reader with me.  And sometimes (like right now) when I forget the Kobo at work, I'll have a duplicate book at home, so I'll never be able to not have a book with me.  
  3. It's cheaper this way, and honestly, I don't get the need to have a tablet with you to be in constant connection with everything on the Interwebz.  Besides, that's what a cell phone is for, if you have one of those.  
  4. I'm old fashioned, and, despite loving technology... I hate technology, and so the closest I can get to a book with it having e-book qualities, that's what I want, so that's what I have. 
I read recently an article which describes the growing sales of Kindles, Nooks, and Tablets, but the leveling off, and in some cases, the decreasing of sales of e-books for the various devices.  I can't help but wonder if my reasons above are the main cause of the leveling out of e-book sales.  Who wants to read a book on the Kindle if there's so many other distractions on the same machine? I certainly don't. It would be interesting to see sales of e-books for the Kobo compared to the other devices.  The numbers will be much smaller, but I'll be that for Kobo e-readers (or any dedicated e-reader) the sales of e-books have not decreased at all.  And that Kobo cares about and partners with the Independent bookstores throughout the US, Canada, and the World, they understand the balance between the digital book and the one made of harvested tree pulp.    

Hospital Food

"Just a little somethin' for the pain..." I miss Shoney's... or rather... I miss their salad bar.  I'm on a continual trek to find good salad bars (well, and cream cheese Danishes), and so whenever I find one, I have to get me a big heapin' salad with meat and cheese and lettuce and dressing.  So Emory Hospital has, amongst the rest of the Hospital food, a salad bar that is absolutely amazing! And the five to six dollars they charge for it is so worth it.  The Caesar dressing reminds me of the dressing they had a college (and since the companies that serve both are similar, there's probably a reason). So next time I happen to be in the area, I'll probably go over there, find a place to park that's not in the parking deck, and walk over there.  Probably the only time I'll actually want to be in a hospital.